Greenpeace activists project anti-nuclear slogans from a boat in Prague’s Vltava River during the formal dinner attended by delegates to the European Nuclear Energy Forum.
Taking the public relations spin at face value, you might think
nuclear power has put behind it blunders like the Chernobyl
catastrophe of 1986 and is finally ready to deliver cheap, safe
power, overcome climate change and ensure energy security. All
together quite a set of claims! But, as Greenpeace highlighted this
week in Prague during the second meeting of the European Nuclear
Energy Forum, it's only the nuclear industry's propaganda that's
been revamped. The technology still can't deliver what's written on
the packet and the nuclear industry's ambitions remain as
unrealistic as ever. And it's having to rely on a heavily
pro-nuclear biased Forum to make its case.
Slogans in the night
Greenpeace lit up central Prague for the past two evenings with
giant projected slogans reminding the public, media and energy
decision makers about the risks of nuclear power versus the
benefits of clean energy. Prague Castle formed the first backdrop
for "Nuclear underlines climate protection" and "Energy Revolution
NOW!", shone from an industrial-size beamer. The images featured a
shattered radiation motif symbolising the chronic flaws in nuclear
Last night, senior politicians and energy bosses attending the
Forum's formal dinner were treated to the shattered radiation
symbol and the words "Non, merci!". A strange choice, perhaps, for
a meeting in Prague - but it addresses the ambitions of the French
company AREVA, which is aggressively promoting its fault-ridden
European Pressurised Reactor as the supposed 'flagship' of an
international nuclear renaissance.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…
The Forum was set up after EU Heads of State and Government in
March 2007 endorsed a European Commission proposal "to organise a
broad discussion among all relevant stakeholders on the
opportunities and risks of nuclear energy". Surprising, then, that
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, each with one seat in a Forum
of around 200 people, are the sole invitees from civil society.
"We welcome an open and fair debate on nuclear energy," says Jan
Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner from Greenpeace International.
"The arguments about cost, safety, energy security and tackling
climate change are all in favour of clean energy options."
Open and fair debate? Think again. Bias was apparent from the
moment the Forum opened. Its first session offered a privileged
position to the CEO of the French nuclear company AREVA to promote
the supposedly cheaper and safer 'European Pressurised Reactor'
(EPR). You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Forum had become a
trade fair for the nuclear lobby.
"What happened in Prague was a mockery of a supposedly open
process," says Beránek. "The nuclear industry is arguing for yet
more financial support at the expense of safety, transparency and
respect for public opinion," he continued. A Eurobarometer survey
of public opinion on energy technologies, published in 2007, found
that only 20 percent of people in the EU support the use of nuclear
Going soft on safety
Away from public scrutiny, the Forum has been considering a
proposal to lower nuclear safety standards across Europe to those
of the lowest level applied in any Member State. This could place a
stranglehold on national authorities wishing to impose stricter
safety standards. And by artificially lowering the costs of any
future nuclear plants, lenient safety standards would help open the
door for an expansion of nuclear power and expose the environment
and public safety to greater nuclear risks.
Recent events demonstrate that nuclear power remains as risky
and controversial as ever. In Spain, information about a recent
leak of radioactive material was kept secret. In Slovakia,
construction work is under preparation on the Mochovce nuclear
plant, which is based on a design from the 1970s and has no
'containment' in place to deal with external impacts. In Finland
and France, construction of the latest generation of French EPR
reactors is showing up the serious lack of competence in the
nuclear industry on issues as fundamental as pouring the concrete
base for the reactors, poor welding and inadequate and sometimes
non-existent quality control.
Greenpeace aimed to blunt enthusiasm among Forum delegates for
the 'flagship' European Pressurised Reactor by distributing an 'EPR
Entitled "Warning: AREVA at work!", the Greenpeace 'EPR Survival
Kit' was aimed at those foolhardy enough to overlook the chronic
problems affecting current construction of the Finnish and French
EPRs compared to the benefits of investing in energy saving and
Brightly coloured and intentionally flippant in tone, the
"Survival Kit' summarised the serious problems - ranging from poor
quality workmanship and severe delays through to significant cost
overruns. The EPR is a modern design of reactor developed and
aggressively promoted by the French nuclear company AREVA. It
promised cheap and reliable technology but costs in Finland have
exploded to over Euro 5 billion and the construction has been
riddled with faults.
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